For those of us currently (or soon to be) hunkered down into the depths of winter, the only realistic option to maintain some kind of bike-specific workouts is the indoor option. While the standard setup may still be a rear-wheel clamped trainer with some kind of variable resistance, trainers have gotten much fancier in the past few years with the possibility of video courses and especially power monitoring.
I will admit that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to indoor cycling – namely, I love it! While I’ve no passion for the isolationism and the sheer mind-melting boredom of going nowhere fast on an indoor bike, what I do love about indoor cycling is the ability to perform super-specific workouts with no distractions or interruptions from traffic, variable terrain, or weather. For an hour or so, I can do a very dedicated workout at specific intensities and durations, making for a high-quality workout. Indeed, even through the main season, I will often do much of my specific training indoors due to the high-quality factor.
It’s Halifax, so no lounging with the Pro 300PT next to a pool, just my lab. To keep memories of warm-weather rides going though, I can always crank my climate chamber up to 40oC!
CycleOps Pro300 PT
So it was with great anticipation that I received and set up the Pro 300PT from CycleOps, the makers of PowerTap. Essentially, it is a PowerTap hub built up into a very solid indoor ergometer. And I do mean very solid – with a 20+kg rear wheel and a sturdy frame, it would surely bust any UCI weight-weenie scale.
Building up the bike was a pretty simple process requiring typical tools and taking about 30 min. It mainly involved bolting on the bottom legs, handlebars, and saddle clamps. Moving the bike around was also easy, thanks to the two big wheels behind the rear flywheel.
As CycleOps’s Robb Zbierski notes, the Pro 300PT is designed to “look like a bike and ride like a bike.” As can be seen in the pictures, the aesthetics of the Pro 300PT is very sleek and about as fast-looking as an indoor bike can get. Definitely a huge step up from the white and blue and very industrial Monarks that I typically have in the lab for teaching, and also the other high-end research-specific cycle ergometers costing the equivalent of an arm and both legs.
Definitely not a toy gym bike or a clunky lab bike – the Pro 300PT is built solid to withstand whatever you can crank out, plus has the sleek styling to make you actually want to hop on! Lots of adjustability in all positioning parameters too, making it perfect for clubmates to share for training and testing.
A “Real” Bike for Indoors
Related to that, one big plus going for the Pro 300PT is the massive range and ease of adjustability. It comes with a set of bullhorn-type bars with built in aero extensions, which are wrapped in dense foam for a nice and durable grip. So a wide range of hand positions are possible, although one limitation is the lack of rotational adjustability on the bars. I found that, in order to get a decent position on the “drops” of the bars, the bars got moved back far enough that I would smack my knee against them when standing up if I wasn’t careful.
Unlike butt-busting wide-ass saddles on many cardio/gym bikes, there’s a real saddle that you can also easily swap with your own choice. The saddle adjustment range for height and fore-aft is just huge and simple, with two simple quick-release or hand levers.
Unlike the wide and painful cushy saddles found on many indoor bikes, the saddle is a racing type saddle mounted on a seatpost that can very easily adjust saddle height and fore-aft with the use of two simple levers. All of the adjustments on the bike are done with quick-release style clamps, such that no tools of any kind are required. Along with the graduated markings etched on the seatpost and handlebars, keeping records of proper position and adjusting the ergometer for different riders is a breeze.
The mechanical adjustment of resistance is very simply done by turning the sturdy dial at the end of the handlebar, permitting me to go from 100 through to far too many watts in a few twists. Note also too the built in aero extensions, the wide range of fore-aft adjustability of the bars, and the left brake lever that lets you stop the massive flywheel quickly.
Crank up the Resistance
The Pro 300PT is not electronically-braked like high-end research-specific cycle ergometers like Lode’s Excalibur, or the Velotron from Racermate/CompuTrainer for that matter. Instead, it relies on simple mechanical resistance via a set of felt brake pads in a V-brake on the rear wheel. Resistance is very simply adjusted via turning a “SRAM Grip-Shift” like knob on the tip of the right handlebar, which in turn tightens or loosens the brake against the rear wheel.
There are obvious tradeoffs with the mechanically-braked approach. The obvious limitation is that it isn’t possible to pre-program specific workouts or wattages, or to pre-program and ride a specific course. Also, unlike electronically-braked ergometers or CompuTrainer, the Pro 300PT does not automatically adjust resistance to cadence, so you cannot pre-set a particular wattage and then do intervals at two different cadences. That’s not to say that you can’t do it, as you just need to adjust the resistance manually to achieve the same wattage.
What the mechanical approach does provide, however, is simplicity of use. Nothing to plug in, no computer required, and simply much less setup and calibration time that can often eat into the small window of time I have to fit in a ride during the day. And unlike traditional rear-clamp trainers, you don’t even have the hassle of setting up your own bike onto the trainer, from making sure the rear wheel is inflated, clamping it onto the trainer, and adjusting the rollers against the rear wheel. Simply jump onto the bike, do a two-second calibration of the PowerTap hub, and you’re riding.
You want flex-free performance? Try twisting these massive seatstays! The massive rear wheel, weighing more than my whole tandem bike, isn’t about to flex under my wattage either, and has the PowerTap monitor built into the hub. The brake pads tighten or loosen against the flywheel to alter resistance, reminding me of the time I rode an entire 16 km TT without realizing my front brake was jammed against my wheel.
From the “ride like a bike” design perspective, the Pro 300PT does a really nice job. Spin-up and spin-down is pretty realistic, thanks to the massive flywheel, and the resistance is also pretty gradual and similar to the road. There are no gears with the Pro 300PT, so it’s a “fixed” gear bike in terms of direct drive. Don’t do a huge sprint and then just “stop” your legs! There is a brake lever too on the left side to stop the flywheel. The unit itself has the same level of stability as an aircraft carrier – its weight and the wide stand front and back enabled it to withstand any attempt on my part to tip it over or make it move while riding.
As with pretty much all trainers, I’m not sure the speed is an exact match for the wattage I was producing. For instance, for a recent workout, it had me averaging 40 km/h or so while at 235 W, when out on the road that wattage will typically get me 34-36km/h. However, that’s pretty much irrelevant, as having power means that you do your workouts according to power output and not speed.
The handlebar unit is BIG to make for easy visibility, with power, cadence, heart rate, and speed all on the same display in large numbers. Data can be logged every second and downloaded for detailed analysis of every sweaty kJ.
Detailed Power Analysis
And of course, the real beauty of the Pro 300PT comes after the ride, when you have detailed data of your workout that you can download and view. For those of you who already have a PowerTap, the Pro 300PT handlebar unit is essentially identical in terms of function, although it’s bigger so that all data is visible at once. Power, cadence, heart rate, and speed can be logged every second. CycleOp’s newly updated PowerAgent 7 software (designed in consultation with power guru Allen Lim and available as a free download for Windows and Mac at www.cycleops.com) works identically with the Pro 300PT unit as it does with the PowerTap unit.
The handlebar unit is much bigger than the PowerTap unit, enabling all four parameters to be displayed at once in big and easy-to-read size. I’ve probably sweated the equivalent of a few water bottles worth of sweat onto the unit and there’s been no problems. My only beef is that the ride time is in a small scrolling display (along with clock, distance and odometer) at the top of the screen, making it a bit harder to see when I’m exhausted and sweat was soaking my eyes and glasses.
At $1899 MSRP, the Pro 300PT is one of the more expensive indoor bikes out there (though not out of line compared to good spin bikes) and comparable to a CompuTrainer setup. However, when you think it through, the Pro 300PT is actually an incredible value. That’s because that price will get you a complete ergometer that requires nothing else except your pedals. You don’t need your own bike or a computer to be rolling. Considering the MSRP for the PowerTap SL hub by itself is $1199 (not even counting the cost of building a set of wheels around the hub), for $700 extra you get all of the data analysis capabilities of the PowerTap in a top-quality indoor bike that is going to last pretty much through your entire indoor career. Put it this way, the Pro 300PT is cheaper than a PowerTap hub built up into a nice set of wheels. The wear and tear from clamping your precious $5K bike onto a trainer and sweating buckets on it through the winters may be worth that alone!
I have now used quite a few trainers and ergometers both for personal and research purposes, and I feel that the Pro 300PT is one of the best options available when you consider all parameters (price, ease of setup/calibration, adjustability, versatility, data analysis). It may appear expensive at first for an indoor bike, but not when compared to high-end research ergometers or the bikes you might use in spin classes. Rather, what you get is detailed and accurate power monitoring in a very durable indoor bike that requires no extra equipment, setup/calibration time, or for you to sweat/trash your high-end road bike. The ride quality, adjustability, and stability of the ergometer is exceptional, and the level of analysis possible is superb.
Get lots of information on training with power, free fully-functional download of the PowerAgent 7 software, and the full line of CycleOps products at www.cycleops.com)
• Where To Get ‘Em: RACycles.com
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